This fall, New York Review Books will publish new editions of two major works by the late postmodernist author William Gaddis. The author's sophomore novel, JR, which includes an introduction by author Joy Williams, will be reissued on October 20, and his debut, The Recognitions, will be published on November 24, with an introduction by Tom McCarthy.
Rights for the books, both of which were previously published by the Dalkey Archive, were sold to NYRB by the Wylie Agency, which represents the Gaddis literary estate, after Dalkey's license expired. Each book will receive an initial print run of 10,000 copies, and a collection of Gaddis's letters will follow next fall. A virtual event to be held by Community Bookstore in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is planned for sometime in December.
NYRB editor Edwin Frank, asked why the press planned to republish what he called Gaddis's "two showstopper doorstoppers," said that the answer was simple: "really good books, great books, don't represent things so much as they represent themselves: they change things, change the way we see language, change the way we see the novel, change the way we see the world around us, and The Recognitions and JR do all of that to this day."
"No one," he added, "except perhaps Henry Green, can write spoken language, in all its sloppy slippery glory, the way Gaddis can; no one presents a more terrifyingly revealing—and amusing—gallery of fakes and poseurs and desperadoes or does a better party scene; no one was more determined than Gaddis was in these two novels to hold modern America, bankrupt in every imaginable way, to account."
The books are indeed massive in comparison to NYRB's usual offerings, although comparable to its 2018 release The Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson, with JR coming it at roughly 750 pages and The Recognitions coming in at 950. Like Anniversaries, which was published in two volumes, Gaddis's novels will be packaged differently than most of the press's books, with a design better suited to the books' bigger trim size. Nicholas During, NYRB's marketing manager, notes that the new covers "are also something of a tribute to the original cover of The Recognitions," adding that Gaddis's children indicated to the press that Gaddis preferred "purely typographical" covers.
McCarthy, when asked by Frank to write the introduction to The Recognitions, said he hadn't read the book, noting that "it had kind of loomed like this giant monolith that I knew I had to tackle at some point" and adding that "there was a personal angle, since a New York Times review of one of my previous novels had framed it as a tribute to The Recognitions."
McCarthy found the book to be "absolutely extraordinary," he told PW, calling it "an Ur-text of post-war American fiction" and adding that, "once you’d read The Recognitions, you see that this later work would be unimaginable without it," pointing to the writing of Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and David Foster Wallace. He added that the book, "with its disquisitions on fraudulence, PR, money, and cultural value," also proves especially relevant to our time: "Gaddis seems to have perfectly anticipated the perfect storm in which contemporary America, and by extension much of the world, finds itself."